Ankiti Bose is set to become the first female founder from India of a billion-dollar startup (unicorn). She has revolutionized how independent fashion is distributed and sold in Southeast Asia and beyond. Top 10 of Asia takes a look at the inspiring story of Ankiti Bose and how she overcame all odds to become one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Asia.
Zilingo is an e-commerce platform that enables businesses across the fashion value chain to be more efficient and scale faster. It is an online marketplace that aggregates the region’s independent retailers and helps them sell online. Approved merchants are allowed to sign up and self-list their products for free after vetting by Zilingo for authenticity, pricing and a series of other metrics. They are given support services like tech support, financing and insurance. In exchange, Zilingo charges a commission for each sale.
Zilingo was co-founded by Ankiti Bose and Dhruv Kapoor in 2015 and is headquartered in Singapore. The idea for Zilingo came to Ankiti Bose when she was on holiday in Bangkok and noticed that many of the small and medium-sized shops had no online presence. Casually pitching the idea for a platform targeted for these small and medium-sized shops to her friend Dhruv Kapoor, a then 24-year old software engineer, he was immediately sold. Pooling their savings for $30,000 each they began executing the idea. Little did anyone know, it would soon become a unicorn.
Bose graduated in 2012 from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai with an Economics and Mathematics degree. She worked as a Management Consultant at McKinsey & Company from 2012 to 2014. From 2014 to 2015, she was an Investment Analyst at Sequoia Capital before starting Zilingo. She had said her day jobs were important roles for her and her co-founder to inform them of what works and does not, and how to build a sustainable business.
Zilingo started by helping small merchants to sell to consumers but has since expanded into new areas. As they grew and started dealing with thousands of small sellers, they realized that many lacked access to technology, capital and economies of scale. Committed to providing the best opportunities for their merchants, Zilingo expanded to include developing software and other tools to allow vendors to access factories from Bangladesh to Vietnam and also help with cross-border shipping and inventory management. Since 2018, Zilingo has also worked with financial technology firms to provide working capital to small sellers so they can buy raw materials to produce goods. In the same year, Zilingo also gave out scholarships to 200 of its merchants in Indonesia to learn English.
Zilingo is a great help for independent fashion and lifestyle retailers to sell directly to consumers without relying on third-party distributors that cut on their profit margins. It allows for a more even playing field against the giants of fashion. Zilingo came at a time when e-commerce powerhouses such as Amazon, Alibaba and Flipkart emerged in major economies like the U.S., China and India which at the same time also showed a lack of choices for consumers.
Bose’s company has also been able to provide opportunities for female entrepreneurs and workers to uplift themselves. Over 60 percent of the people their merchants employ are female. More than half of Zilingo’s staff are women. Bose credits her extreme positivity and resilience part of what made her entrepreneurship journey successful. Believing in the importance of positivity, Zilingo staff get medical leave and reimbursements for mental health in Zilingo.
In just four short years the company has seen phenomenal growth. Zilingo initially began with seed funding from Sequoia India, the same venture capital firm Bose worked in before starting Zilingo. It raised an additional $8 million in a Series A funding round in September 2016. There was an additional $18 million in 2017 in a Series B round and $54 million in a Series C round in 2018. In 2019, the company raised $226 million in a Series D round. Zilingo is now set to reach unicorn status and Bose, to become India’s first female unicorn founder at the age of just 27 years old.
Bose’s achievements have been nothing short of astounding. She comes from a country where only about 14 percent of women own or run businesses. She also came from the male-dominated tech industry to become one of the few unicorn founders in the world. Bose is not resting on her laurels. She wants to keep her keen sense of observation and continues to watch the industry and her competitors closely to stay ahead of the curve. She has set even bigger goals and wants Zilingo to be a global company.